Life Connected

Nonprofit Helps War Veterans Find Purpose Again

A group of volunteers in Glendale are working to save the lives of veterans in need

For millions of Americans who have been to war, the horrors of the battlefield can leave lifelong scars and not all of them can be seen.

Glendale native Joseph Palesano, who served eight years in Desert Storm as a gunner's mate in the Navy, suffered several combat injuries. He says the mental wounds have been even more traumatic.

"The war changed me. The things I saw changed me," Palesano said. "I felt alone, scared. Like I have no purpose in my life anymore."

Palesano says after returning home, he was lost to PTSD for 20 years until one day he stumbled upon a two-story house on West Broadway Avenue in Glendale. Inside, he discovered Wellness Works, a nonprofit set up to help veterans like him.

Wellness Works is a safe haven that introduces vets to emotional support dogs, writing therapy workshops, acupuncture and counseling, and even meditation and tai chi.

Palesano says while all of that helps, the most healing medicine is the bond with other vets who understand what he's been through.

"When I met this group of people and other vets I found out I wasn't alone," he said. "Everyone was feeling the same thing I was feeling. I felt OK, we can do this together."

Keith Gates, a 74-year-old Vietnam veteran who grew up in Van Nuys, says Wellness Works is helping him recover from a 40-year battle with alcohol and thoughts of suicide.

"They've done more for me in one year than the government did since I came home in 1964," he said. "The VA (Veterans Affairs) says call us we'll answer all your questions. But nobody answers the phone."

"I wish I'd found them 20 years ago, maybe I wouldn't be so angry as I am now at everybody," Gates added.

Gates and Palesano now volunteer with Wellness Works and help organize an annual four-day gathering of vets on the Colorado Bridge called "Not On Our Watch." It's aimed at raising awareness about veteran suicides.

Palesano says giving back to his fellows vets has given him something he thought he'd lost: hope.

"I feel complete again, my life has purpose, and this is what I was meant to do," he said.

Wellness Works holds a barbecue on the third Saturday of every month. All veterans and their families are welcome. For more information, visit the Wellness Works website at

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